Decompression Sickness Involving the Eye

Signs and Symptoms

  • Nystagmus (flicking of the eyes)
  • double vision
  • blank areas in the vision
  • loss of half the vision in an eye
  • pain in the eye muscles
  • blindness
  • inability to see close up objects
  • inflammation of the optic nerve
  • blockage of the central retinal artery.

Incidence of Ocular DCS

  • In two large series was found to be 7 and 12 % .
  • Long-term changes in the retinas is thought to be due to blockage of blood vessels of the choroid plexus.
  • The incidence of these lesions is directly related to the length of diving and a history of decompression sickness.
  • In altitude DCS the most common neurologic finding is ophthalmologic
  • Increased risk if exposed to altitude too closely after diving.

Treatment of Ocular DCS

  • Recompression to 60 fsw or deeper and hyperbaric oxygen breathing, the sooner the better.
  • Incomplete response to treatment and recurrence of symptoms following treatment may lead to the infrequent situation where the eye doctor will be called upon to manage the diver in conjunction with the diving medicine specialist.
  • The diver should be retreated with recompression and hyperbaric oxygen even when there is a considerable delay, since such treatment can be successful up to several weeks after the initial insult.


Ernest S. Campbell, M.D., FACS

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